Since his arrival almost two and a half years ago, Manchester City has seen change unlike any other period in the club’s history. The oil rich owners influence has come to the fore after a period of disappointment under Mark Hughes, with Roberto Mancini bringing legitimately accomplished world class players to the club. Aside from Jerome Boateng, the German international defender that struggled to settle in, the spine of the team was massively altered, and to great expense. Cultured Spanish midfielder David Silva from Valencia, controversial Italian forward Mario Balotelli from Inter, and Yaya Toure, brother of club captain Kolo, from Barcelona were all brought in for £24 million apiece. Highly rated Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko also joined as did James Milner from Aston Villa and Aleksandar Kolarov from Lazio. Within the space of just two transfer windows, Mancini had spent £150 million on players. Manchester City expected big things.
A relatively similar season followed, only with one difference that possibly kept him in a job. In May they clinched 3rd spot in the Premier League, improving from 5th the previous year, meaning City’s first ever participation in the money-spinning UEFA Champions League, where they would be competing with Europe’s best. They also managed to convert a 1-0 semi final win against Manchester United into a trophy, beating Stoke City in the FA Cup final to clinch the first medals in the new era.
Third spot, however, was not a league title, and the desire remained. Mancini would spend once again, this time bringing in Gael Clichy, already an accomplished Premier League player at Arsenal, along with Clichy’s countryman and former team mate, one of the stars of the previous season Samir Nasri. Young defender Stefan Savic was also brought in along with injury prone former England star Owen Hargreaves and a reserve goalkeeper (Costel Pantillimon) to replace the departed Shay Given as Joe Hart’s understudy. However these were overshadowed by the big money arrival of Argentina star Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid. Once again success was expected.
The signings would gel incredibly, particularly Sergio Aguero who, prior to Robin van Persie’s virtuoso displays for faltering Arsenal, led the goalscoring charts. David Silva was also lighting up the Premier League, and was drawing comparisons to international team mates Andres Iniesta and Xavi. City was blazing a trail at the top of the league, and were looking forward to their Champions League exploits where they would be facing German giants Bayern Munich, exciting Italian outfit Napoli and the experienced Champions League veterans Villareal.
It was however in this competition, during the defeat to Bayern Munich, that the biggest test so far in Mancini’s reign would come. Want-away striker and former captain Carlos Tevez would refuse to come on as a substitute after starting on the bench, causing a controversial argument with his own manager on the touchline and an even more controversial outcome. Mancini would declare that Tevez would never wear the shirt again, Tevez would also bury the knife into Mancini after fleeing Manchester to his Argentina base, where he would remain whilst his manager worked on keeping Manchester City going, forgetting about the entire issue and remaining in the title race with their surging cross city rivals.
One of the major pitfalls of building a team of expensive world stars tends to be having to deal with interesting personalities. There are very few bigger than Mario Balotelli. The Italian fluctuates from loveable rogue to footballs disgrace in the eyes of the media on an almost weekly basis, and there is very little denying that Mancini has got the best out of him, whilst also seemingly managing to keep the rest of the squad from resenting him.
The European campaign was a disappointment. They would eventually fall to Sporting Lisbon in the Europa Cup, after crashing out at the hands of Napoli in the Champions League, a similar fate to that of Manchester United. The league collapse that first let their local rivals back in to the title race from several points behind, and then gave them the advantage was also a major disappointment. It seemed as though the many millions would again result in a season without much to show for at the end.
With their season looking as good as over, Mancini and Tevez seemingly called a truce. It was announced that he would be returning to add a boost to their run in, and did they need it. An assist for the winner against Chelsea and a hat-trick against Norwich City has left Manchester City a win over their rivals on Monday night, the biggest Manchester Derby in quite some time, from returning to the top of the table on goal difference. Something that didn’t seem possible just a few weeks ago.
Without doubt, the money and riches available to Mancini have not made his job a walk in the park so to speak. He has had issues to deal with and has managed to keep them from boiling over. That all said, the money he has spent should bring success. Jose Mourinho showed this in building a team that dominated English football when he had similar backing at Chelsea in the middle of the last decade.